Evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project

This is an evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project (CRP), which formed part of the Scottish Government’s wider Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) and focused on addressing the needs of offenders serving prison sentences between six months and less than four years.

Executive Summary


1 Launched in March 2012, the Community Reintegration Project (CRP) formed part of the Scottish Government's wider Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) and focused on addressing the needs of short-term offenders (i.e. those serving between six months and less than four years). The CRP represented an attempt to increase the provision and take-up of throughcare services for short-term offenders in Scotland. Specifically, it involved the piloting of a single business process for the effective and tailored needs screening of short-term offenders, the provision of appropriate services and support whilst in prison, referral to the relevant community criminal justice social work (CJSW) team, and continuing support on transition to the community. Key partners in the CRP process were the Scottish Government, Scottish Prison Service (SPS), the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW) and the Scottish Court Service (SCS).

2 The CRP was launched in March 2012 for an initial 12 month pilot period. It was then extended for a further 12 months, with additional project management input from the Scottish Government and SPS.

3 The pilot focused on: male offenders with home addresses in the City of Dundee serving short-term sentences (six months to less than four years) in HMP Perth; and on female offenders with home addresses in the City of Dundee or Lanarkshire (North and South) serving short-term sentences in HMP Cornton Vale, Edinburgh or Greenock.

4 The main aims of the evaluation, which was carried out by ScotCen Social Research, were: first, to examine the CRP process and assess how it is working in practice; secondly, to explore the evidence that the project achieved its short and medium-term outcomes; and thirdly, to consider lessons for any future roll out of the scheme or other expansion of throughcare for short-term offenders.

The implementation and operation of the CRP

5 All four sites operated a process that was recognisably part of the CRP, in that it involved structured engagement with eligible offenders through five broad stages; referral to CJSW; and an element of coordinated pre- and post-release support. But there were significant variations in how each establishment organised itself to deliver these activities and, to a lesser extent, in the character of the activities themselves. There were also some modifications to the process during the period in which the CRP was running, both locally and at the level of the project as a whole.

6 The total number of offenders eligible for and actually participating in the CRP was relatively small in all prisons except HMP Perth, raising questions about the scope to generalise from a pilot phase in which it was not necessarily possible to achieve the 'critical mass' needed for all relevant staff to be fully aware of (and trained in) the project and for the project to have a sufficiently high profile to 'compete' with other services and initiatives already known to inmates.

7 The sharp increase in numbers identified as eligible after March 2013 suggests that not all eligible offenders were necessarily identified prior to that; the picture of throughput and attrition is, however, rendered uncertain by an incomplete set of monitoring data.

8 What might be considered the minimal level of meaningful engagement with the CRP - participation in a Comprehensive Screen (Stage 3) - appears to have happened in relation to around half of eligible admissions.

9 The monitoring data suggest a high degree of attrition beyond Stage 3, with many of the meetings due to take place not actually doing so. While there is evidence that offenders are being referred to other services, it is not clear from the monitoring data whether such referrals would have been generated in other ways in the absence of the project, or whether offenders are interacting directly with CJSW in the community.

Practitioner views and experiences of the CRP process

10 Practitioner views about the specifics of the CRP process were mixed. There was general support for a structured approach to needs assessment and for mechanisms for connecting offenders more effectively to external services; but there were also concerns about particular aspects of the CRP as implemented.

11 Prison staff generally found it helpful to have access to CJSW reports as part of the needs assessment process and the system for obtaining these now seems to be working effectively, although a considerable proportion of reports (around a third) are, however, sourced on request from CJSW offices rather than being provided automatically by SCS.

12 The Comprehensive Screen (at Stage 3) was generally felt to be useful but there was consensus that it should not take place too early, while offenders were still adjusting to being admitted to prison, and that new needs were perhaps more likely to be identified during Standard Reviews (at Stage 4), once a degree of trust had built up between offenders and their Personal Officer (PO).

13 At three of the prisons, the pre-release meeting (or an additional meeting scheduled with CJSW) was happening closer to the release date as it was felt that the original plan to hold the pre-release meeting five weeks before release might miss offender needs that emerged or changed during the subsequent period. Having representation from the relevant PO at the meeting was felt to be very valuable, though was not always possible because of shift patterns and other commitments.

14 While lack of offender motivation was seen as a key factor in explaining why scheduled meetings did not go ahead, there was also variation in the extent to which different prisons prioritised or monitored progress on undertaking the stages of the process.

15 There was significant dissatisfaction among prison staff with the CRP paperwork and procedures for information recording. The CRP forms in particular were criticised for being too dependent on 'tick boxes' and insufficiently integrated with existing electronic systems (such as PR2 and the PR2-based ICM process).

16 Training and support for staff in relation to the CRP was widely felt to have been inadequate. Despite the training sessions which were held in the participating establishments, some staff indicated that they had received no training, while others felt that the training they had received had lacked detail about the process or rationale for the project.

Evidence of organisational and staff outcomes

17 There was clear support for the principle of joint working across staff from SPS, CJSW and SCS; although this was sometimes tempered by the need to avoid duplication and clearly demonstrate added value. This is likely to have pre-dated the CRP rather than be an outcome of the project; nevertheless, it does suggest that an important pre-condition for success may be in place.

18 The nature of the links between prison staff and CJSW influenced the way in which the CRP was delivered, with some evidence that the 'embedded' rather than 'arms-length' model offered potential advantages in terms of familiarity between SPS and CJSW staff, ease of information sharing and an increased profile for CJSW within prisons. But the embedded model, in itself, did not ensure working links between frontline staff on a case-specific basis.

19 On the ground, communication and coordination with external agencies appeared to be limited. Some POs gave accounts of direct dealings with external agencies, but most had what could be described as a 'hands off' approach once a referral was made.

20 There was evidence of generally strong links and regular communication between CJSW and other external agencies. However, awareness of the CRP itself was low and agency staff were often unaware that a referral had originated with the project.

21 Although the identification of offender needs was seen as a core part of the PO's role (now and in the past), there was also a clear view that the CRP's structured and staged process helped to identify needs more systematically than might otherwise have been the case. In particular, it was felt that the system reduced reliance on proactive members of staff and reduced the risk of overlooking the needs of less demanding, more reserved offenders.

22 Although there is little doubt that the CRP has resulted in an increase in the level of interaction with offenders pre-release, there is a significant problem of attrition across the various stages of the project. Where meetings do occur, there are also questions about the quality of interaction, with offenders not always aware of the purpose of the meeting or having made a positive decision to engage with CJSW.

23 Overall the evaluation suggests the CRP is facilitating progress towards the expected short and medium-term outcomes for organisations and staff, but that the practice of joint working could be further improved and that more effective motivation and engagement of offenders would improve needs assessment further and increase interaction relating to reintegration.

Evidence of offender outcomes

24 In general, the CRP process appears to support POs in their interaction with individual offenders and role of promoting engagement with relevant services. But some prison staff were not clear about the importance of actively promoting the CRP to offenders or felt poorly equipped to do so. As a result, the quality of staff-offender interaction around the project varied, with the result that some offenders - when presenting to CJSW - showed little awareness of the reason for their referral or motivation to engage.

25 While some prisons took positive steps to promote the project, CJSW staff sometimes viewed this as a mixed blessing, as increased numbers of referrals might also lead to an increase in individuals lacking any real motivation to engage.

26 Many of the offenders who had taken part in the CRP appeared to have a good awareness of their own needs. Although it is not possible to show that the associated referrals were a direct result of the CRP and would not have happened anyway, there were some specific accounts from offenders of how interactions around the CRP had helped them to understand or address their needs.

27 Trust was considered fundamental to the development of productive offender-practitioner relationships and, again, there were aspects of the CRP process (in particular the regular review meetings) which appear to have supported this.

28 Staff and offenders emphasised the importance of staff being able to deliver real practical benefits; and, equally, the dangers of failing to do so. The opportunity to address pressing needs (such as housing) was also a key driver of offender motivation to engage and staff were conscious of the impact of being unable to meet those needs because of external resource constraints.

29 The CRP process was also seen as providing a helpful mechanism for identifying, tapping into and supporting wider offender motivations to change - whether triggered by significant life events, circumstances or simply life stage.

30 Involvement in the CRP led to increased engagement with reintegration planning - in that a number of offenders are attending reviews and pre-release meetings during the course of their sentence that would not otherwise have happened. However, the rates of engagement and attrition suggest that there is scope to increase this level of engagement further.

31 It is less clear whether the CRP led to increased post-release engagement with services, although both offenders and staff felt that contact pre-release made such engagement more likely once offenders returned to the community. The challenges of sustaining service involvement beyond the prison gate are greatest in relation to male offenders, and the evaluation identified a number of ways in which this might be addressed.

32 Across all the offender outcomes - whether short, medium or long-term - the evidence is limited and does not allow for causal attribution. However, the indication of positive impacts is in line with existing evidence on addressing recidivism. There is enough evidence of good practice and positive offender experience to suggest that there are features of the CRP which have proved helpful and that support the plausibility of the model in increasing reintegration and reducing reoffending.

Key contextual factors shaping the implementation, operation and outcomes of the CRP

33 Three broad contextual factors shaped the implementation, outcomes and operation of the CRP. While these are not simple 'barriers' or 'enablers' that can be easily addressed or replicated, they need to be factored in to thinking about why the project has operated in the way that it has and how it might be developed in the future.

34 The most significant is the challenge of carving out a distinctive role and identity for the project within a 'crowded landscape' of overlapping and sometimes competing service provision. This makes CRP difficult to explain to SPS staff and other practitioners, and also - even more importantly - to offenders, for whom word of mouth is a critical means of learning and making decisions about service use.

35 An important enabling factor has been the general direction of travel within SPS, which has led to a renewed emphasis on constructive work with offenders, a recognition of the importance of partnership working 'beyond the prison gate' and a restatement of the importance of the PO role. While there are pockets of resistance to aspects of this shift in organisational priorities and culture, it is also clear that there is a strong basis of support - at various levels - for many of the underlying principles (and overarching objectives) of the CRP.

36 A further set of important contextual factors relate to the character of the local prison environments within which the CRP was implemented. The highly diverse built environment within the participating establishments greatly shaped the nature and extent of inter-agency contact, and also the opportunities for offenders and staff (from SPS and other agencies) to interact in informal and productive ways. The inevitable flux associated with offender movement within and between prisons, staff changes and flexible working patterns also posed significant challenges in terms of maintaining individual relationships and awareness and understanding of the project more generally.

Key lessons and implications

37 The evaluation identified a number of specific lessons for potential roll-out of the process and some wider considerations about the future of voluntary throughcare more generally.

38 The most obvious is that a pilot intervention of this kind will always struggle to generate the critical mass necessary to establish familiarity and understanding among both staff and offenders, and effective working relationships with external partners.

39 Training needs to be more compelling and comprehensive than has been the case to date, particularly for staff in prisons. It needs to provide detail not only of the process but also of the underlying objectives of the project and roles of key stakeholders within it. And it needs to be ongoing, so that knowledge and awareness are not disrupted by staff turnover or absence.

40 While much of the attrition across the various stages of the CRP process will be a result of offender disengagement, it is also likely that there are failures to monitor and progress meetings and referrals from the staff side. More effective mechanisms - and clearer responsibilities - for doing this would help to maximise engagement at each stage.

41 The paperwork associated with the project needs to be streamlined and integrated with existing systems, so that it is not seen as burdensome by staff. At the same time, there should be greater scope to include narrative information that is likely to help POs and others to work effectively with individual offenders.

42 The CRP is built around the principle of partnership working but inter-agency relationships are often under-developed and over-reliant on personal links between individual staff. This should be addressed through the development of clearer statements of respective roles and responsibilities, greater attention to attendance at cross-agency meetings, and improved communication channels more generally.

43 The resource implications of expanding provision for voluntary throughcare - although not insignificant within SPS and SCS - appear to be greatest in relation to CJSW, where there was particular concern about the ability to meet increased demand for intensive support. More generally, and across practitioner groups, there was concern about the availability of suitable accommodation for offenders leaving prison and the critical role that this plays in the resettlement process.

44 Wider considerations raised by the evaluation in relation to the overall character and ethos of an expanded voluntary throughcare service include: the question of whether CJSW should be delivering services directly or should focus primarily on signposting and coordinating; the issue of whether throughcare for short-term offenders should operate on an opt-in or opt-out basis; and the need for greater integration with other aspects of the custodial system (such as Home Detention Curfew).

45 In terms of key contextual factors, there is a need to bring greater coherence to the service landscape in this area and to build a distinctive 'brand' identity for voluntary throughcare. Recent strategic and cultural shifts within SPS mean the organisational context is potentially conducive to such a development. However, a genuinely multi-agency approach will require creative responses to the physical and administrative constraints of the prison environment.


46 The evaluation has shown that the core CRP process was implemented broadly as intended across the four prisons and two social work areas involved in the project, but that there was wide variation in terms of approaches to delivery across different settings. Moreover, the process itself evolved significantly in response to 'on the ground' experience, local circumstances and needs. The level of activity was also lower than might perhaps have been expected. In the women's prisons, this resulted from relatively few offenders being identified as eligible to participate, but in the men's prison, too, there was a high degree of attrition across the various stages of the project.

47 Overall, the evaluation found considerable evidence that a structured and staged approach to offender engagement, coupled with the strengthening of inter-agency links, has the potential to lead to improvements in pre-release planning and a higher level of contact with services in the community. In that sense, the CRP's underlying theory of change remains broadly plausible and intact. For it to achieve such impacts on any significant scale, however, throughput would need to be increased and attrition reduced; and adequately resourced, evidence-based services would need to be available within community settings.

48 The evaluation found strong support for the principle of improving support for short-term offenders and enhancing provision of and access to throughcare. There was also evidence of good or innovative practice across a range of settings. However, for the CRP to deliver - at scale - its intended outcomes, the process itself would need to be improved in some of the ways identified above. The gains would perhaps be greater still if those lessons were to form the basis of a system-wide, coherent and consistent approach to voluntary throughcare and related support services. Such an approach would have significant resource implications, especially - though not solely - within community settings, signalling the need for this issue to be seen as not belonging not to any one agency but as integral to the wider preventative spend agenda and debate around public service reform.


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